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Bhastrika Pranayama (Bellows breath)

If you recall, in the Kapalabhati pranayama, the emphasis is only on exhalation which is forced, short and brisk. The inhalation is passive and natural. During exhalation we also force the belly in toward the spine in a quick movement.  In contrast, in the Bhastrika pranayama, both inhalation and exhalation are forced. Moreover, movement of the belly along with each breath is an optional variation.

‘Bhastrika’ is a Sanskrit word for the bellows – a device for producing a strong current of air that was used to fan fire in the old days. In this pranayama, the lungs are moved with movements that resemble the bellows.

Bhastrika is a very energetic breathing technique and must be practiced with a touch of caution. If at any time during the practice you feel light-headed, you should discontinue the routine and relax.

I will be giving here two different techniques for bhastrika. One is based on the classical approach given in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. The other is a modified version of the technique and involves the movement of the arms and shoulders along with the breath.

Step-by-step (Technique 1)

This is the classical approach to Bhastrika as given in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika.

  1. Sit in any comfortable, cross-legged meditation posture with the spine upright, arms and shoulders relaxed.
  2. Take a slow, deep inhalation.
  3. Exhale quickly and forcefully through the nose. Immediately, at the end of exhalation, inhale with the same force. Do not strain.
  4. During exhalation, the belly moves slightly in and during inhalation, the abdomen relaxes and fills out slightly. These  movements of the belly are slightly exaggerated with conscious movement of the diaphragm.
  5. Continue for ten rounds. Then relax with normal breath.
  6. Practice three to five rounds in the similar manner.
  7. During practice, the breathing should be rhythmical and both inhalation and exhalation should be of equal duration.
  8. After some practice, you may try to increase the speed as well as the number of breaths in each round, keeping the breathing rhythmical.

Variation 1

  1. Using Vishnu Mudra with the right hand, close the right nostril with the thumb.

  2. Alternate nostril breath

  3. Inhale slowly and deeply through the left nostril.
  4. Then breathe in and out with force through the left nostril, as described above, and repeat it for 20 breaths.
  5. After completing the last breath, breathe in deeply, close both the nostrils, lower the chin toward the chest in Jalandahara Bandha and hold the breath as long as comfortable.
  6. Raise the head, close the left nostril with the ring finger and exhale slowly through the right nostril.

  7. Alternate nostril breath

  8. Now take a deep, slow inhalation through the right nostril.
  9. Then breathe in and out with force through the right nostril, as described above, and repeat it for 20 breaths.
  10. After completing the last breath, breathe in deeply, close both the nostrils, lower the chin toward to the chest in Jalandahara Bandha and hold the breath as long as comfortable.
  11. Raise the head and exhale slowly through the left nostril.
  12. That completes one round. You may go for up to three rounds if it feels comfortable.
  13. Now repeat the same procedures with both the nostrils open. First breathe in deeply and slowly through both nostrils, then breathe in and out rapidly and forcefully for 20 breaths.
  14. After the last breath, take a deep inhalation, close both the nostrils and lower the chin in Jalandhara Bandha and hold the breath.
  15. When you are ready to exhale, release the bandha and exhale slowly through the left nostril.

Step-by-step (Technique 2)

  1. In this technique, in addition to using forced inhalation and exhalation, we move the arms and shoulders along with the breath.
  2. Sit in any comfortable, cross-legged meditation posture with the spine upright, arms and shoulders relaxed.
  3. Take one slow, deep inhalation and follow it with a deep, slow exhalation.
  4. Make a soft fist with the two hands and place the hands slightly in front of the shoulders.
  5. While inhaling forcefully, force the hands up vertically, opening the palms when the hands are up.
  6. While exhaling forcefully, force the arms down, making a fist again in front of the shoulders.
  7. Repeat the above move 20 times. This is one round.
  8. You may go for three similar rounds.

Benefits

  • Bhastrika stimulates the circulation of cerebral fluid and provides compression and decompression of the brain in a rhythmic manner giving it a gentle massage.
  • Rhythmic movement of the lungs and the diaphragm stimulates the heart and blood circulation.
  • Accelerated blood circulation increases "gas exchange" in each cell, producing heat in the system and getting rid of waste gases.
  • Bhastrika heats the nasal passage and sinuses, clearing out excess mucus and building resistance to colds and respiratory disorders. Thus it provides a yogic cure for sinusitis, asthma and bronchitis.
  • It improves digestion, increases appetite and improves metabolic function.
  • Bhastika helps in strengthening the nervous system, harmonizing the emotions and brining inner calm.
  • Bhastrika increases physical vitality and improves clarity of mind.

Contraindications/Cautions

  • Those with high blood pressure, heart disease, brain tumor, vertigo, stomach or intestine problems, glaucoma, dysentery/diarrhea should NOT attempt this practice.
  • If you experience light-headedness or dizziness during the practice, stop the practice.
  • Build up the practice by increasing the number of rounds gradually.
  • Bhastrika should be practiced when the mind is relaxed and the mind should be kept fully focused on the breathing during the practice.

Question: Does your pranayama practice include Bhastrika? If so, what style? I would love to receive your feedback in the comments section.

29 comments to Bhastrika Pranayama (Bellows breath)

  • Your posts are so helpful because they are so specific and well researched. I say that as a yoga teacher myself. Thanks.

    • Subhash

      Hi Kala, thanks for your kind feedback. As I mentioned in a previous email to you, I would also like to be more casual and spontaneous in writing my blog posts – still working on it!

      • surinder

        Sir,
        kindly tell me the timing for inhaling and exhaling for following pranayama.
        1. Bhastrika : number of second to inhale and number of second foe exhaling.

        2.Anulom vilom: Number of seconds to inhale and to exhale.

        Surinder,
        Pathankot

        • Dear Surinder, in the kind of bhastrika that I practice, there is no set time for inhalation and exhalation. Each inhalation and exhalation is a short burst of breath, somewhat forced. For Anulom-Vilom, the usual guideline is a ratio of 1:2 between inhale and exhale. So, if you inhale for say 5 seconds, you should try to exhale for 10 seconds and so on. Gradually, over a period of time, and with regular practice, your capacity will increase and you may be able to go up to a ratio of 10:20 (seconds) or even higher. Of course, when you reach a high enough ration, you can also introduce breath retention after inhalation. Let me know if you need more information on breath retention techniques.

  • Prakash Kamkhalia

    Shri Subhashji,
    I am a person of age 67. My B.P. is bet. 160 to 170 without medication. But I consume 1 B.P.tablet Cresar 40 once in 24 hrs.and B.P. is under control to 130.I am also a patient of Asthma but my asthma is well under control now a days even without medication. Especially since last 2 years, I feel that I am no more Asthmatic. Anyway, I am aware of the fact that Bhastrika is not recommended for hypertensive patient in general but I do not want to miss Bhastrika. How about doing bhastrika at moderate intensity for 2 min.not in one stratch but in 4 spells of each 30 sec.with some rest in bet.spells.Will you please guide me?

    • admin

      Dear Prakash,
      Thank you so much for visiting my site. As you have rightly mentioned, Bhastrika is not recommended for patients with high BP. However, if you are in a position to monitor your BP every day for at least 4-5 weeks while you are practicing the milder version of Bhastrika, you are OK to give it a try. Make sure that the BP doesn’t fluctuate beyond the normal range. Do keep me informed of your progress. These instances can help me guide other yoga practitioners who are also dealing with high BP. Thanks for bringing it up.
      All the best,
      Subhash

  • Paul

    Thank you Subhash,

    I was recently told by my cardio doc. I most likely have POTS syndrome( postural orthstatic tachardia syndrome.) Basically it is an autonomic nervous system disorder which affects heart rate and BP while standing. Heart rate raises and BP lowers upon standing and the nervous system doesn’t get signaled to push the blood upward. I did a few bhastrikas and it seemed to help, but I know having been around yoga some that we must use some caution with pranayama. I am looking for tools to reinvigorate my parasympathetic nervous system, and thought I might ask you if you have any insight into this? I am receiving proper medical evaluation but I thought there may be a remote chance you may add some thoughts.

    Thank you and blessings,

    Paul

    • Dear Paul, you are indeed asking a difficult question. The main precaution in the practice of bhastrika is that it should be avoided if one has hypertension. In your case, since your BP goes low, I see no reason to avoid it. Also, all the techniques involving deep breaths – alternate nostril breathing, bhramari, cooling breaths etc, are supposed to activate the parasympathetic nervous system. As long as you feel comfortable, I think any of these breathing techniques should be fine for you. If you find anything different from other sources, please do share with me. Thanks.

  • Saurabh

    Respected Sir,

    I have a doubt & question as well in respect of my prayanam practice which i use to do at home.

    Yesterday I was performing anulom-vilom kriya in a standing posture in front of mandir and went through approx 10 rounds and unfortunately & suddenly fell down on the ground unconsciously.

    I don’t know what happened at that moment and by god’s grace it won’t hurt at all but what i can recall is that i totally lost physical consciousnesses.

    Please suggest/guide me to continue my practice and why I am facing this problem.

    I will be grateful for you for this help!

    Thanks & Regards,
    Saurabh Kaushik

    • Dear Saurabh, I am sorry that you had that unfortunate experience while doing Anuloma Viloma. In general, this is a very light and gentle practice and should really not cause this kind of reaction, unless you were also doing some extensive kumbhaka and bandhas. Moreover, I would strongly recommend practicing pranayama in a seated position, not standing. My suggestion would be to continue the practice and see if you have a recurrence of a similar episode. If that happens, you need to consult with a medical doctor. For kumbhaka and bandha practice, you should definitely be under the guidance of a local yoga teacher.

    • Dear Saurabh,
      I am really sorry about not responding to you earlier. It is unfortunate that you had the episode that you mentioned while practicing pranayama. I really don’t know if your fall could be related to the practice of Anulom-Vilom. The only suggestion that I can make is that you may like to practice pranayama in a seated posture and not while standing. Wishing you all the best.

  • nuzhat

    Thanks for your nice post. I have been practicing kapalbhati and vastrika pranayam. Kapalbhati is fine for me but after a while doing vastrika I feel my nostrils a bit sensitive and sneeze repeatedly for about six to seven times or more. My query is if it is okay to continue vastrika, because I have no ailments you mentioned as a caution for this exercise.

    • As long as the practice of Bhastrika doesn’t give you any kind of pain or discomfort, I would think that it is OK to continue the practice. It is likely that over time you will be able to get over this side-effect.

  • Rahul

    Hi, Sir I am a student and want to know that what is difference between Anulom Vilom and Brastrika pranayam please its my request

    • Hello Rahul, the main difference is that in Anulom Vilom we take very deep and soft breaths through alternate nostrils, whereas in Bhastrika the breathing is short, brisk and forced. You can follow the instructions on my blog to learn how to practice these two techniques.

  • GOPAL V BANDIWAD

    Respected sir

    I am 56 years old. I want to reduce my pot belly.Will Bhastrika and
    kapalbhati help? I have hitus hernia but do not have any problem because of it.Please advice

    • Dear Gopal,

      Yes, indeed, Kapalabhati and Bhastrika are helpful in managing weight. In addition, there are a few things you have to keep in mind:

      1. You must ensure that your technique for these practices is right. I have had instances where people claimed that they had been practicing KB for a long time but have seen no noticeable change. When I checked their technique, it turned out that they were doing it wrong.
      2. Comprehensive lifestyle changes, in addition to practicing various yoga techniques, are very important. Your routine must include some asanas which require repetitive movements, some form of aerobic exercise, carefully planned diet, proper sleeping pattern etc.

      Hope this is helpful.

      Regards,

      Subhash

  • Dear Shri Subhashji,

    Your step-by-step Bhastrika Pranayama (Bellows breath)is well defined and explained. I am practicing yoga asana, pranayam for more than 15 year and meditation for the 2 years. I used to practice both 1 & 2 types. I would like your advice which is more effective. I feel type no.2 apart from pranayam one is also getting yoga pose and also breathing pattern get streamlined / tunes in line with pranayam norms. By doing this type one is able to sit straight without hunching the back.

    Thank you very much.

    Regards,

    N.K. Ramani

    • Dear Ramani, which of the two Bhastrika techniques is more effective is, I think, a matter of your own experience. I suggest you try both for some time, maybe on alternate days, and see for yourself if you like one better that the other. I agree with you that in the second variation we are able to use the arm/shoulder movement in addition to the forced breaths. Please let me know how it goes for you.

  • Nice post. Pranyama is panacea for all ailments besides a keep fit programme.For more please visit http://www.atmabodh.net/pranayama

  • Bhastrika pranayama helps to improve resistance power and can help in fighting against so many diseases. Read and watch Swami Ramdev Bhastrika pranayama at http://www.atmabodh.net/bhastrika_pranayam

  • shailesh

    Dear subhash sir can you tell me what is correct technique of anulomvilom nd plz mention ratio about it

  • Arun

    Sir,
    I come comfortable with the type 2 of Bhastrika but I want to know the following

    1) Do i have to bring in the stomach completely when exhaling
    2) DO i have to fill the abdomen with air when inhaling

    The following is the procedure I do
    1) Fill the lungs with air while inhaling and keep the stomach tight and normal
    2) exhale all the air in the lungs by pulling in the stomach

    Please let me know

    regards,
    arun

  • Dear Arun,
    Bhastrika, as you may know, can be done in a few different ways. The way I practice and teach is given in the blog post above. I am not sure what you mean by type 2. I suggest you go back to the source of your information and follow accordingly. Thanks.

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